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A dejected Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to Israel on Monday morning still suffering from the heartrending feeling of a missed opportunity following its Euroleague final loss to CSKA Moscow Sunday night.
Maccabi was one win away from capturing its third straight European championship but came up against a hungrier team that matched its intensity and character and defeated one of Europe's greatest ever basketball dynasties.
"In the future we may look back at what we achieved in the last few years and realize we had some wonderful seasons," Maccabi star Anthony Parker said on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.
"We made it to the Final Four this year and the fact we were close to winning the game made it even more painful. It's still early to be talking about what will happen next at Maccabi, as we've still got the league to play for. We are still having a hard time dealing with this loss."
Tel Aviv's only remaining objective this season is to capture its 13th straight league championship. The yellowand-blue, who are currently top of the table, have nine remaining regular season games, which will be followed by a Final Four tournament from which the champions will be determined.
The Final Four format has been introduced in order to raise the excitement in a league that is known for its tediousness rather then its interest, with Maccabi winning 35 of the last 36 titles.
Despite the change, anything but another Tel Aviv championship will be nothing short of astonishing.
With the league looking like nothing more then a forgone conclusion the attention is naturally turning towards preparations for next season.
Coach Pini Gershon, who led the team to three European titles, has spoken in the last few months many times of his wish to leave and the speculation as to his replacement has already begun.
The obvious successor is Benetton Treviso coach David Blatt, who replaced Gershon in the past at Maccabi. Blatt still has a season remaining on his contract in Italy but should he request to leave, Benetton will probably not stand in his way. There is also the option of a foreign coach but with no clear candidate this alternative remains unlikely.
The core of Maccabi's squad is under contract for next season with Tal Burstein and Nikola Vujcic the main question marks for next year.
It has been rumored that Burstein is on his way to Spain after being offered a blockbuster deal. Tel Aviv would like to re-sign Vujcic, but the yellow-and-blue face tough competition from many of Europe's giants for his autograph. Vujcic may also want to finally test his wits against the world's best in the NBA.
The last uncertainty is whether Will Solomon will continue for another season. Solomon has a contract for next year but his erratic season may convince the next Maccabi coach to replace him.
Israeli guard Yotam Halperin, who was loaned out to Olimpija Ljubljana this season, has one more year left on his contract with Maccabi and is expected to return to the team should his NBA dream not materialize.
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